The neural encoding of sensory stimuli is usually investigated for spike responses, although many neurons are known to convey information by graded membrane potential changes. We compare by model simulations how well different dynamical stimuli can be discriminated on the basis of spiking or graded responses. Although a continuously varying membrane potential contains more information than binary spike trains, we find situations where different stimuli can be better discriminated on the basis of spike responses than on the basis of graded responses. Spikes can be superior to graded membrane potential fluctuations if spikes sharpen the temporal structure of neuronal responses by amplifying fast transients of the membrane potential. Such fast membrane potential changes can be induced deterministically by the stimulus or can be due to membrane potential noise that is influenced in its statistical properties by the stimulus. The graded response mode is superior for discrimination between stimuli on a fine time scale.